Tag Archives: books

Book Review: Izevel, Queen of Darkness by Kate Chamberlayne

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I picked this book up a couple of years ago at a youth camp, mainly out of intrigue. It is from a series called Dark Chapters, which is aiming to provide an alternative for teenagers and young adults to the more horror based YA fiction that is out there, and get them to look to the Bible and consider how God views those things.

First of all, I really admire what the books are trying to achieve. I have read a fair amount of young adult fiction – although I lean more towards the dystopian and fantasy genres rather than the supernatural/horror ones – and they can get quite dark. As I have a teaching/youthwork background, I do sometimes worry about books, TV shows, and films that romanticise the occult, however, the vast majority that I have read/seen do present a battle of good vs evil – with the good generally winning, but also showing the shades of grey. But I do think that a series like this is needed. I dislike when Christians criticise what they see in popular culture without offering alternatives.

So to the book itself. It is a retelling of the story of Elijah taken from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 9. The narrative is well constructed, and all the main points that I remember from the biblical account are there, but with some artistic flourishes, of course.

My main question mark about this book is down to perspective. The story is told (in third person narrative) almost entirely from the perspective of Jezebel (who is renamed Izevel in the book). This did make sense as she is the title character, but actually as the novel progressed it left me feeling rather confused. First, the story covers her childhood – the distant, unloving relationship with her father, the loss of her younger brother etc – all of which evokes sympathy for her. But as the story goes on and she becomes Queen of Israel and starts to do all the horrible things she is remembered for I found it hard to dislike her because of the way she had been introduced. Generally when a book focuses on a central character, it is because the author wants you to see the world from their perspective and understand them, which this book did do, but at the same time it felt like the author was trying to push me really hard into disliking her, which left me feeling conflicted. At the end of the novel, I didn’t know whether I was meant to feel relieved or upset that she got her comeuppance. Maybe I just dislike novels when the protagonist is not meant to be likeable.

Also, because the story is told from Jezebel’s perspective, the prophet Elijah is presented as the antagonist and does not come across as very likeable, which also seems counterintuitive as he is the hero of the biblical account. In fact, most of the characters you feel you should like are presented unsympathetically, or are underdeveloped.

So, generally I feel that the concept of this book and series is good and needed, but I’m not entirely sure it has been carried out successfully in this edition. Although if it encourages a teenager to pick up the Bible then it has done well. I would be interested to read the other books in the series to see if they are executed in a similar way, and I would also like to hear the opinions of some young people who have read the series, although I’m not convinced it is one I would rush to recommend.

Rhi’s Fundraising Challenge

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One of the best things about having a blog is getting to tell some amazing stories, even when they are not my own… I have some pretty awesome friends and this week I want to share the fundraising exploits of my friend Rhi. I’ve asked her to tell you all a little of what she’s up to in the next few weeks:

‘As a part of a charity apprenticeship that I’m completing this year with the charity Child.org, I’m running a challenge fundraiser at the end of April. The challenge is called ‘Survive on Five’ and I will be living on £1 a day for 5 days to raise funds and awareness of children living in poverty in Ghana and Kenya. Child.org works to empower some of the world’s most vulnerable children by providing them with access to quality health care, education, water and food. Key projects include HealthStart which teaches life skills, provides family planning information and provides malaria nets and deworming treatment as well as school feeding programmes which consistently provide nutritious meals, helping children not to have to worry where their next meal will come from. As well as my fundraising challenge, I am currently creating a product called Mystery Books which I hope to take around local fayres and events. I will also be running an event in the autumn as well as other fundraising ideas so watch this space’

I personally am very excited about the mystery books, being such a bookworm…! Rhi describes this as: ‘Mystery books are wrapped up books with clues on the front – buy a literary present for yourself and helping children at the same time!’ I understand that Rhi is parting with books from her own collection so they will all come with her recommendation. If you fancy a blind date with a good book you need look no further!

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If you want to support Rhi, you can donate here: http://child.org/me/food-fiver-challenge

Book Review: ‘Everyday Isn’t Perfect’ by Dr K.L. Register

 

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I have been following KL’s blog  ‘The Ninth Life‘ for some time now, and I always get a little excited when bloggers I like announce book releases. Unfortunately, I have a strict rule in place about buying books at the moment, so this volume was languishing on my Amazon wishlist for a while until a kind friend spotted it there and bought it for me for my birthday.

If you read KL’s blog, you will probably recognise some of the stories as they have appeared there, but I like having them all in one cute little book that I can refer back to.

My first favourite thing about this book is the title. I didn’t get together with my friends to celebrate my birthday until a few days later. On the way to the restaurant, several of us had been complaining about how upsetting and stressful our work days had been. So a little bit later when I was opening my presents after dinner, and I pulled this book out of the giftwrap, we all had a laugh at the appropriateness of the title on that day. In itself, it is a good reminder that we don’t have to be discouraged when things go wrong, we can just shrug, and say ‘Everyday isn’t perfect!’ knowing that we have a new opportunity the next day.

I really enjoyed this book. It is a collection of short stories, essays and poems, each one no more than a couple of pages long. Some are accounts from her own life, some are entertaining encounters with her patients (she is a dentist), some are more general thoughts on life. I choose to read a couple of ‘chapters’ each evening to make me smile before going to bed, but you could just as easily read one at the start of each day to help put you in a good mood for the day – something I will probably do the next time I read it.

KL writes with honesty, wit and humour. Part of the reason I enjoyed this book is probably because we have a similar outlook on life. Although we have had very different experiences, her writing is very relatable and is full of encouragement to be brave, have faith, and to love yourself. Heartily recommended for anyone who needs a bit of a boost.

(To get yourself a copy, head over to The Ninth Life and follow the links)

Rule of Life and Book Review of ‘God in my Everything’ by Ken Shigematsu

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It’s been over a month since I finished this book, so it won’t be a thorough review, more a suggestion that it is a really good book to read if you are a very busy person struggling to fit God into your day to day life.

We were reading this in our home groups at church between May and July this year. We read a chapter or two per week and discussed it together – what we were learning, how we were trying to put it into practice. The book centres around spiritual disciplines, and how to build in rhythms of moments with God into your everyday experience. I found it really encouraging. As someone who doesn’t have a lot of free time, it was a good reminder to REST (which may have been my word for the year and is still something I’m not very good at).

I finished the book whilst I was in Moldova, meaning I missed the last couple of weeks of discussing it with my homegroup, but also that it became part of the general wake-up call I received from God at that time. I’d been drifting slightly for a couple of months in my relationship with God – one of the dangers of theological study is that God becomes just the subject you are studying and there is a tendency to forget that it is meant to be a relationship. I was clinging on because it was a stressful time, but I wasn’t really listening to what He was saying to me. This book, and then my Moldova trip, was God saying, ‘Hang on, are you listening to me? Yoohoo! Over here when you’re ready…!’

I was reading the chapter about outreach on our last day of the girls camp in Moldova. The need we saw in Moldova was a little overwhelming, and at times it was difficult to believe that our efforts would actually make any difference. Then I read this:

‘When we serve we experience joy and find ourselves drawn closer to God, but there will also be times when our efforts feel like a drop in an ocean of human need. Remember, Scripture tells us that our work will not be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Nothing done with and for Christ in this present time will be wasted in God’s future. It will find its way into the new world.’ (p 195)

It was so powerful in that moment that it brought tears to my eyes. I read it out to some of my teammates and we were all encouraged to be reminded that nothing we had done was wasted in God’s economy.

I’ve drafted a rule of life for myself now, simple goals to keep me on track with God, with my health and with my work/life/study balance. I thought about sharing it on here, and maybe I will at some point, but for now I think it’s just for me to keep reflecting on alone. But I encourage you to read the book for yourself and to work on ways to build in rhythms of spiritual discipline into your own life.

Book Review – The Boy Who Loved Rain by Gerard Kelly

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First, I feel I should preface this by saying I know Gerard and his wife Chrissy through Bless, the missional charity they run serving churches across Europe. My links with Bless date back almost ten years now, I love the work that they do and feel privileged to have been involved with it. I’m not saying this to name-drop (I know an author!) but so you understand that my review is not unbiased! 😉

I have read most of Gerard’s non-fiction works and greatly enjoyed them (especially Stretch, Stretch was brilliant), so I was really excited when I heard he had written a novel, promptly pre-ordered it, waited impatiently for it to be delivered, and then waited a year and a half to actually read it… such is the state of my to-read list, and for that I can only apologise.

It was definitely worth the wait though! Gerard is a gifted communicator – whether in sermons, blogs, poetry, tweets – and his style translated well into fiction.

The story follows Colom, a teenage boy who has recently developed behavioural problems, and his mother Fiona as she tries to help him. Her husband, David, is a pastor and reluctant to seek help from outside the church, and their home has become a battleground. Fiona seeks the help of Miriam, and old friend, former nun and therapist, who gives Fiona and Colom refuge as they try to work through his problems.

The descriptions were almost tangible, the characters mostly well-rounded, although there were a few gaps in the backstories and I wanted to see more of David and his point of view. The story didn’t develop the way I expected it to, which is usually a good thing (!) and the novel as a whole was really emotionally engaging as the revelations about the family’s past came to light and the relationships shifted and deepened. I liked the continuing motif of the weather and how it paralleled and even prophesied the characters’ emotional states. I also enjoyed the sections of first person narrative, from an unknown narrator who wasn’t revealed until nearly the end – the way these were written they could have been attributed to several characters, and different ones at different points.

My only slight disappointed was the fault of my expectations. After the first couple of chapters I was expecting this to be a book about how a church community reacts and deals with mental illness and the failings of its leaders – it didn’t go that direction, and was a more personal story because of that. The novel was great as it was, and did in some ways deal with the issues – particularly of how to help someone suffering from mental illness – but for me that church community aspect was lacking. I guess I wanted a couple of extra chapters of epilogue to cover the family reunion and the aftermath for their relationships and David’s pastoral ministry.

I still think the way this novel deals with the issue of mental illness is really timely for the church, as it has been a taboo subject for so long. The novel provides an insight for those working with young people, and a challenge for parents who are involved in church leadership on balancing their families and their ministry.

Book Review: Me, Myself and Bob by Phil Vischer

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I bought this book for my brother for Christmas several years ago. He’s a filmmaker with a background in animation who had always enjoyed VeggieTales, so I thought he’s be interested in the story behind it. Unfortunately, he was travelling a lot at the time and the book languished on his bookshelf for a while. Then I thought – if he isn’t going to read it, I will! So it ended up on my bookshelf for a while… But I’m a firm believer that books come to us at the time we need them most. Knowing we would be visiting my brother last week, I decided to take the book with me to read, so I could pass it on to him when I was done. I’m really glad I did.

I grew up with VeggieTales. I remember the excitement each time a new video came out. I remember as a teenager helping with the kids club at church, how we would insist on VeggieTales every time a video week was suggested. I loved the stories, the songs, and the characters. I had no idea, even until reading this book now, what had been going on behind the scenes.

The book takes a little while to get going. Vischer’s style of writing is more suited to scripts or picture books for children than to non-fiction for adults (something he admits to himself). But it is engaging. The first hundred pages or so included a lot of technical information that I didn’t really understand, but which my brother would find fascinating I’m sure… but once he gets to the story of producing the first couple of videos, the book picks up pace.

I couldn’t put the book down all through the rapid growth of Vicsher’s company, Big Idea, trying to fit the timeline of the book to my memories of the videos coming out. Vischer hints throughout at what is to come, trying to emphasise where he went wrong with the business to show what lead to its collapse. I would have been very sad had the book ended there, but this was not the story of a company making videos starring vegetables – it is the story of one man’s relationship with God.

After outlining what he learned about business through his successes and failures with Big Idea, Vischer gets to the heart of the matter. What ultimately went wrong was that Vischer was so focused on his dream that he lost sight of God, the dream-giver. The last couple of chapters of the book are so powerful, as Vischer comes to terms with God not saving his company, his dream, because He wanted to save him, the man, the relationship. Vischer draws parallels between his story and characters from the Bible and from literature, as he learns that God wants to be the most important thing in our lives, and we may have to sacrifice our dreams for that. One passage really jumped out at me:

‘As this truth sunk in, I found myself facing a God I had never heard about in Sunday School – a God who, it appeared, wanted me to let go of my dreams. But why? Why would God want us to let go of our dreams? Because anything I am unwilling to let go of is an idol, and I am in sin. The more I thought about my intense drive to build Big Idea and change the world, the more I realized I had let my “good work” become an idol that defined me. Rather than finding my identity in my relationship with God, I was finding it in my drive to do “good work”.’

I found this last part of the book really challenging, as I know I am prone to this. It can become all too easy to focus so much on the work that we are doing for God that we lose sight of God Himself. And He never wants that. This was a timely reminder for me, as I head into the second year of my theology course, that my focus always needs to be on my relationship with God not on my studies, or my future, or my dreams. I need Him more than I need any of those things. And I think this may be something that I’ve lost sight of over the last couple of years, may be why I have struggled to write this summer. I got too busy, too distracted and forgot to meet with God everyday.

It is okay to have dreams, to have plans. But I know now I need to hold onto them loosely, but cling onto God tightly. Time with Him is fuel for everything He calls me to do, and if I lose sight of Him, I risk losing everything. But if I focus on Him, He will give me everything I need.

As I came to the end of the book, a song from my childhood (not even a VeggieTales song!) came into me head. It is based on a couple of verses from Matthew 6:

‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God

And His righteousness

And all these things will be added unto you

Allelu, Alleluia.’

(P.S. the book has now been returned to my brother, with a few heavy hints that he should read it soon)

A Glimpse of the Future?

I recently read the novel Flashforward, which was made into a TV show a few years ago that was cancelled after one season and ended on a massive cliff hanger… I read the book because I had enjoyed the show, but other than the basic concept and a couple of character names, the book bore little resemblance to the show and, sadly, did not live up to expectation. It is very rare for me to say this, but the show was better than the book it was based on…

Anyway, this blog isn’t really about the show or the book – it’s about the idea. The concept of the novel is that for two minutes, unexpectedly, the entire population of Earth blacks out and their consciousness is transported twenty-one years and six months into the future, where they experience two minutes as their future selves.

When they return to the present, they have a lot of questions – what caused the phenomenon? Should they try to repeat it? And, most importantly, is the future they saw fixed, or can it be changed?

Although the book was a disappointment, it did get me thinking – if I had the opportunity to see my future, would I take it? Do I want to know what will happen to me a few years down the line – and would I try to change it if I knew?

I generally have an overactive imagination, and spend a lot of idle moments thinking about where I’d like to live, how and where I might meet the man of my dreams, what schools would I send my hypothetical children to, what job I want when I finish my course… But while I enjoy the speculation, I like the openness of my future right now. I like that I have options, and that I don’t know what is coming. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it would be nice to know for certain that I will get married, and what his name might be so that I can pay attention when he comes along… but at the same time I know I’m better off not knowing.

In Matthew 6v25-34, Jesus tells the crowds not to worry about the future, because there will be enough to worry about when it comes along. He’s talking specifically about provision – comforting us that God knows what we need and will provide it, so we don’t need to fret. But I think it applies more generally. The present is all we really have, because we don’t know what is around the corner. So we’re wasting our time if we stress ourselves out over the details of our futures. I don’t think this means that we shouldn’t make plans at all, rather that we shouldn’t be so obsessed with the future that we miss out on enjoying the here and now.

Not knowing the future also gives us hope. One of the characters in the book is convinced that the future is set, and there is nothing he can do to change it, and it starts to have a negative impact on the choices he makes in the present. As Christians it is often a comfort to us to know that God has plans for our future, and I believe that He does, but they are not strict and immovable. God has also given us free will, which allows us to involve ourselves in His plans, rather than have them dictated to us. Yes He guides us, and He has an ultimate plan for creation, but He will not force us into doing things. At the same time, He is always working behind the scenes to bring about His will.

Does that sound like a contradiction? It kind of is… God’s omniscience regarding the future is something I’ve really been struggling to get my head around in the past year… And I don’t think I’m any closer, but I’m happy to live in the contradiction of a God who knows the future yet gives me free will to determine how mine will pan out.

When life gets messy, we can have hope that the future will be better, different. We can also trust that God is looking after us, directing our steps (Proverbs 16v9), and working for our good (Romans 8v28).